Dead-End Drive In
By: Jon  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Starring: Ned Manning, Natalie McCurry, Peter Whitford, Dave Gibson, Wilbur Wilde
Screenplay: Peter Smalley
Country: Australia
Year: 1986
The pre-credits on-screen text informs us that society has rapidly crumbled. Unemployment and crime rates are extremely high, leading to food shortages and rioting. We meet the "Car Boys", wild gangs of youths who harass the general public, although their main purpose seems to be fighting with police and tow truck drivers in order to salvage cars involved in accidents. Obviously the cost of spare parts are now a lot more than human life. However the government has developed a new strategy to deal with wayward youth....

Crabs (Ned Manning) borrows his big brothers flash Chevy to take his girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry) to the drive-in. To save a few bucks he pretends they're unemployed since tickets for the jobless are considerably cheaper. Just as they're about to play some nudie prod games, someone steals a couple of the tyres off the car. Crabs is confused when he discovers that the police did it. The drive-in manager, Mr Thompson (Peter Whitford) informs them that they will have to wait until the next day before anything can be done and they must stay the night. Crabs is even more confused when he wakes and sees that there are hundreds of people living in their cars at the drive-in. It seems that Crabs and Carmen have discovered first hand how the government is now dealing with the unemployed. They're trapped in the drive-in, which is enclosed by an electrified fence and guarded by the police. But it's not all bad. They're provided an allowance of $30 a week, given meal tickets for the concession stand, and every night movies are shown. During the day the boys play two-up in the toilets and the girls do each others hair. While Crabs plots his escape, the rest of the youths seem quite happy to live this way, until the cops bus in a group of Chinese immigrants and racial tensions threaten to boilover.

A mix of exploitation and social critique, Dead-End Drive-In has a great premise and builds up some momentum, but then the storyline stops dead so we can have a standard (though still exciting) shoot-em-up-things-exploding-goodguy-escapes finale. It felt as if someone had tapped the director on the shoulder and said something like "excuse me Mr Trenchard-Smith, but don't forget we need to show our hero escaping", so Brian stopped what he was filming and said "yeah fuck this social commentary shit, let's go blow something up". Before the pyrotechnics kick in, we're given a script that attacks dole bludgers, racism, media that's fascinated with sensationalism, and a government that feeds those problems rather than fix them. But the same script offers no answers at all. As the aim of the story is to show Crabs escaping from the drive-in and hence to escape the boundaries imposed by society, we're never really shown why he thinks life is better "out there", unless the screenwriters consider life as a murderer on the run to be something we should all aspire to. At the start of the film he pesters his brother to let him ride in his tow truck to an accident scene but it's clearly an experience that he didn't enjoy and his job driving a delivery van is also unsatisfying. Even his own mother tells him that he'll always be small and won't be a big man like his brother. Also, after the first 15 minutes the audience has been given enough to understand exactly what the drive-in is all about and we know that the sinister Mr Thompson is up to no good, but even an hour into the film they've still got Crabs uncovering bits of information detailing the government conspiracy and having a pointless confrontation with Thompson.

Director Brian Trenchard-Smith is a name that should be familiar to many Oz exploitation film fans. In fact some of his other films, Man From Hong Kong and Turkey Shoot, are actually being shown at the drive-in during the course of the movie, and at times even compliment the action within the drive-in itself. He may have sacrificed some of the over the top action and graphic bloodshed of those other films in this case, but the pace here never lags and the social and political statements give it something of a unique touch. It's just a pity that they don't lead anywhere. While, as a whole, Dead-End Drive-In may be less than satisfying, it contains enough pieces of humour and action to be worth watching.
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